H. Ramirez proving he can fill outfield void

June 6th, 2021

BALTIMORE -- The Indians were hoping that their outfield would be in better shape this year than the past few seasons after signing Eddie Rosario over the winter. But when Oscar Mercado and Bradley Zimmer both failed to win the Opening Day center field job, the state of the outfield was once again in question. Could be the answer the team’s been looking for?

Since he was added to the Indians’ active roster on May 3, Ramirez has been a relatively consistent bat and a hard-hit machine for Cleveland. His latest performance included a first-inning homer and two singles that helped lift the Indians to a 10-4 victory over the Orioles on Saturday at Camden Yards.

“I’ll tell you what,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “he’s been really big for us.”

Although he’s been steady all season, Ramirez has really seemed to settle in over the last two weeks, dating back to May 20. That timing couldn’t have been better for Cleveland, as slugger Franmil Reyes was sidelined with an internal oblique strain on May 23, and Ramirez has seen the most time as his replacement in the cleanup spot. In his last 14 games, Ramirez has hit .320 with an .882 OPS.

“I don’t think I have to change my approach when I come to the plate,” Ramirez said through team interpreter Agustin Rivero, “because regardless of the order at-bat, I think I’ll have to do the same approach to get the results I get. So, I don’t think it has anything to do with my approach.”

The Indians entered Saturday with the second-fewest number of homers from their No. 4 hitter in the Majors (ahead of just the Rockies). Ramirez’s long ball moved the club into a tie with Baltimore with six homers from the cleanup spot and snapped his 16-game homerless stretch. But clearly, even without the homers, Ramirez has been producing.

He ranks among the top 6 percent in the league in maximum exit velocity and entered Saturday with a 54.5 hard-hit percentage, which is 20.4 percentage points higher than his hard-hit rate in his last full season in 2019. That hard-hit percentage was sixth in the Majors prior to Saturday among all hitters with at least 75 batted balls, trailing Giancarlo Stanton, Evan Longoria, Ronald Acuña Jr., Aaron Judge and Salvador Perez.

“[Ramirez] stays flat through the zone so well,” Francona said. “It seems like he’s barreling up a lot of balls. He stays through the middle of the field so well and he gets the barrel to it. He gives himself a chance.”

Cleveland claimed Ramirez off waivers from the Marlins at the end of February. The team liked the move because he provided versatility at all three outfield spots, had some Major League experience and had an option remaining to give them some depth. After beginning the year at the alternate training site, Ramirez quickly made a strong first impression with a two-hit night in his first game on May 3, and has proven that he can be a consistent force in the middle of this lineup.

“It’s a new energy,” Indians starter Aaron Civale said of Ramirez. “Kind of the same that [José Ramírez] brings to this clubhouse. It’s just a guy you know he’s gonna go up there and put a good swing on the ball every time. He’s never gonna complain. He’s always gonna go out there and give it his all, and that’s refreshing. We have a lot of those guys, but to have someone come up and do that right away, it’s awesome. It’s fun to play with him and he’s a guy you want to root for.”